Campus News

UK student-athletes partner with First Lady Beshear to collect toys for Eastern Kentucky

A collection event is set for Sunday, Dec. 4 from noon until 4 p.m. at Kroger Field near gate 12 to drop off gifts.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 2, 2022) — What started out as a class project turned into a collaboration that will bring Kentucky kids toys for the holidays. The Cats Holiday Toy Drive, led by a group of University of Kentucky student-athletes, has partnered with First Lady Britainy Beshear to collect new toys and books for children in Eastern Kentucky that have been impacted by the devastating floods.

“I want to make sure these kids know that even if Christmas looks a little different this year, Santa will still be coming to visit them,” the First Lady said. “So just like last year in Western Kentucky, I am announcing a toy drive where people from around our Commonwealth – and country – can donate gifts.”

The student-athletes, which include William Nalty (Football), Quintin Wilson (Football), Sydney Steely (Track & Field), Lesley Kiesling (Women’s Soccer) and graduate assistants Maleah Abner, Brinkley Berch and Sam Grant, created the toy drive for the final project of a class taught by Justin Nichols, Ed.D., assistant professor in the UK College of Education Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion

The class, Supervision of Sport and Fitness Personnel, tasked the student-athletes with creating a community service initiative which included planning, staffing, directing/leading and evaluating their project.

When assigned this ‘good deeds’ project by Dr. Nichols, the very first thing that came to mind was trying to find a way to give to those affected by the recent floods in Eastern Kentucky. Being a Kentucky resident for all of my life, it was absolutely a no brainer finding a way for me to give back to the Commonwealth,” Abner said. “For me, Christmas morning holds a special place in my heart. Knowing I could provide even one child with that same feeling and memories of Christmas past is something indescribable.”

After the decision was made to give to the flood victims, the next decision the students had to make was how.

“We started things off with bin donations from one of the Lexington Home Depot’s. From there, we set these bins up in different locations that we all had ties to in athletic buildings and the building our class is in. After that, we started doing some events such as going to UK soccer games and collecting toys from their fans and going to different student organizations on campus’s meetings explaining our initiative and telling them how they could get involved,” Abner said.

A collection event is set for Sunday, Dec. 4 from noon until 4 p.m. at Kroger Field near gate 12 to drop off gifts. However, donation bins are also currently set up at The 90, near the Fresh Food Company, and at the Gatton Student Center, near the Fireside Lounge.

“Personally, it has truly been amazing seeing so many different people from all over the country come together to help provide these kids with a holiday season,” said Abner. “Here we are… a few months in and now we are able to partner with First Lady Beshear. Saying those words are a dream! Never did I think that this small class project with friends would turn into over 500 toys and counting.”

For more information about the Cats Holiday Toy Drive, follow @catsholidaytoydrive on Facebook and Instagram.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.